KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 12, 2015) — President Barack Obama has unveiled a plan to make the first two years of community college tuition free to “responsible students.”
The president first revealed the plan in a video released Jan. 8, then discussed it further in a speech at Knoxville, Tenn., in a nationwide tour leading up to his State of the Union address.
Tennessee has already established a program for free community college tuition, paid for with state lottery funds, and Knoxville is where the Obama administration plans to establish its latest manufacturing innovation center.
“In our growing global economy, Americans need more have more knowledge and skills to compete,” said a posting on the White House website Jan. 8.
“By 2020, an estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor's degree, and 30 percent will require some college or an associate's degree,” the posting said. “Students should be able to get the knowledge and the skills they need without taking on decades' worth of student debt.”
The White House estimates its plan will benefit some 9 million students every year, and save each full-time community college student an average of $3,800 annually.
Under the plan, students will have to attend community college at least half-time, maintain grade-point averages of at least 2.5 and make steady progress toward completing their programs of study, the White House said.
Community colleges will be expected to offer academic programs that are fully transferable to four-year institutions and/or occupational training programs with high graduation rates that lead to in-demand degrees and certificates, according to the White House. The colleges must also adopt promising, evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student performance, it said.
The federal government will provide funding to cover three-quarters of the program costs, the White House said. Participating states will be expected to provide the remainder of the funding, it said.
Earlier in his tour, President Obama visited Michigan to tout the success of his 2008 bailout of the U.S. auto industry.
His appearance there, however, elicited an equivocal response from the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM).
“The Obama administration certainly deserves credit for things such as the auto rescue, which ended up being a tremendous success,” wrote AAM blogger Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch on Jan. 7. “But it's also important to keep in mind that there are some big issues in the air that could end up hurting American manufacturing workers, including auto workers.”
Ms. Brotherton-Bunch urged President Obama to address Chinese and Japanese currency manipulation in negotiations toward the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the U.S. and 11 other nations.
“The president is still 743,000 jobs away from hitting his goal of creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs in his second term,” she wrote. “If Obama wants to help spur that growth—and make sure things don't go sliding into a negative direction—his administration will get serious about the trade deficit and address currency manipulation in the TPP.”